The All Time Top 50 British Comedy Actors

The legends of British television comedy.
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Ronnie Barker
Ronnie Barker's remarkable versatility as a performer can be traced back to his time in repertory theatre, where he was able to play a wide range of roles and develop his talent for accents, voices and verbal dexterity. It was during this time that he met Glenn Melvyn, who taught him how to stammer (something he would later use to great effect in the sitcom Open All Hours)...
“ Not only was Ronnie Barker immensely versatile, but what he didn't know about comic acting could have been written on the back of a postage stamp. Barker not only had a natural ability to master different accents, but he also developed many unique mannerisms for each individual character he played. Whether it was as Londoner Fletcher, Northerner Arkwright, Welsh Evans or upperclass Rustless, Barker's characters were all brilliant creations (though some of his shows were better than others). Porridge was a show where the supporting cast and the scripts were first class, but Barker lifted the show to a level that arguably only Fawlty Towers has ever bettered. It is a great shame that Barker did not appear in more quality productions on television. After Porridge, only Open All Hours was a hit. The Magnificent Evans and Clarence failed, mainly due to poor scripts. Barker retired in 1988 and only returned briefly in 2001. Barker was also a master of sketch comedy, part of the legendary duo of the Two Ronnies, where he played many different characters. ” - topukactors
“ Richard Briers, like Ronnie Barker, was a master of comic acting. The chameleon like quality of Barker won him awards and plaudits, whereas Briers was often underrated. Ironically Briers' and Barker's first big breaks came on the same show at the start of the 60s where Jimmy Edwards played the lead role. Barker then went on to The Frost Report and Briers starred in Marriage Lines. Although younger, Briers achieved greater sitcom success than Barker in the 1960s, as Marriage Lines ran for several series and was one of the most successful sitcoms of the decade. In the mid 1970s, Barker won acclaim for Porridge while Briers starred in The Good Life. Briers brought charm and vulnerability to characters that in another actor's hands could have been unsympathetic. In the 1980s Barker had his second sitcom success in Open All Hours, while Briers' hit was in Ever Decreasing Circles. Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles was a brilliant creation, very different to Tom Good. Co-star Peter Egan found Briers so funny that scenes sometimes had to be re-shot because Egan was in hysterics! Despite Ever Decreasing Circles being the better show, Open All Hours was given more repeat showings. Therefore Briers is remembered largely for The Good Life, whereas Barker is remembered for Porridge and Open All Hours (plus The Two Ronnies of course). Ever Decreasing Circles is by far the most underrated TV programme of all time. Barker retired at the end of the 1980s, while Briers went on to appear in Branagh's Shakespeare and a number of other films. ” - topukactors
Patricia Routledge
In the 1990s, Patricia found UK TV fame as Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) in the hit comedy series "Keeping Up Appearances" (1990), in which she played a middle-class woman who was always putting on airs and graces in order to ingratiate herself with the right people. This was followed by the series Hetty Wainthropp Investigates in which she played a retired northern housewife turned private eye.
“ Although primarily known for only one sitcom role in Keeping up appearances, Patricia Routledge was a versatile and talented actress that went on to appear in Hetty Wainthropp but appeared little on television after that. The physical energy and outrageous exuberance she brought to the role of snob Hyacinth Bucket was not simply over-the-top clowning done for laughs. Hyacinth was a driven obsessed person and Routledge's skill was in both being outrageously funny and extreme and yet also totally believable. Some of her best scenes may not have appeared to have been particularly outstanding in the script. A scene with Elizabeth in her kitchen where she keeps drawing attention to her holiday brochures is a work of genius from Routledge, probably the best ever in sitcom at physical comedy. ” - topukactors
John Cleese
John Cleese was born on October 27, 1939, in Weston-Super-Mare, England, to Muriel Evelyn (Cross) and Reginald Francis Cleese. He was born into a family of modest means, his father being an insurance salesman; but he was nonetheless sent off to private schools to obtain a good education. Here he was often tormented for his height...
“ John Cleese's knowledge of comedy, both as a writer and a performer, is second to none. Basil Fawlty is a brilliant creation. Like Hyacinth Bucket, he is outrageously over-the-top yet totally believable (even if some of the situations he finds himself in aren't). To make a success of farce comedy is extremely difficult (usually moments of brilliance are mixed with moments of awfulness). Fawlty Towers is a work of genius from start to finish. Even the worst episodes are better than the best episodes of most sitcoms. Cleese was a perfectionist, working with Connie Booth on each script for much longer than was normal for sitcoms. Cleese was not a particularly versatile actor. Most of his other roles were similar to Basil or himself. But his brilliance in the role of Basil should never be overlooked. The sheer energy, timing and power of his performance is breathtaking. Basil is the best TV character ever. Fawlty Towers is the best TV programme ever. ” - topukactors
“ Warren Mitchell was, in a sense, a victim of his own success. He created such a memorable TV character (Alf Garnett in Till death us do part) that he struggled to get other top television roles. Garnett was, on paper, a character that no one would want to watch in a television sitcom. He was a ranting angry ignorant bigot. Yet Mitchell not only managed to make Garnett a hilarious character, but he even managed to make him likeable. The sheer energy of his rants, particularly in scenes in his front room, where Garnett hurled insults at his wife (a sublime Dandy Nichols) and had shouting matches with his son-in-law (a brilliant performance from Tony Booth), contained sitcom acting of the very highest calibre. Episodes varied in quality (all the best ones were the ones set primarily in the Garnett house), but Mitchell's performance remained constant. Till death us do part was a landmark in sitcom history, running from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s. ” - topukactors
“ Michael Crawford's career in sitcoms was short, but he created one of the most memorable TV characters of all time in Frank Spencer in Some mothers do 'ave 'em. The character was good and the situation was interesting but the scripts were not very good. It was one of those shows were everything automatically goes wrong for the lead character. Another show that was like this was One Foot in The Grave. The best sitcoms are when things go wrong for the lead character because someone has caused them to go wrong (Basil is the chief culprit of his own demise in Fawlty Towers). It was Crawford's performance that made the show a success. The mannerisms. The voice. The comic timing. The genius Michael Crawford. ” - topukactors
Harry H. Corbett
Harry H Corbett (he added the "H" to avoid being confused with Sooty's friend) was born in Burma in 1925. His father was an officer in the army. His mother died when he was very young and he moved to England as a child and was brought up in Manchester by an aunt. After his war service, he joined a repertory company and during the 1950s appeared in many stage productions...
“ Harry H. Corbett's career can be seen as quite tragic. He had a promising career, then he became so successful in a role that he became trapped in it and then he died young. However, viewed another way, he was in arguably the first great sitcom. There were sitcoms with actors playing the lead parts (rather than comedians) before Steptoe and Son but few that were much good. There was a repressed violence in Corbett's performance that gave the character energy. He often kept the momentum going in long scenes (a lot of shows featured only he and Wilfrid Brambell). Although Brambell's was the better part, Corbett's was the better performance. ” - topukactors
Robert Hardy
One of England's most enduringly successful character actors, Robert Hardy is noted for his versatility and depth. Born in Cheltenham in 1925, he studied at Oxford University and, in 1949, he joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. Television viewers most fondly remember him...
“ Although not a sitcom, Robert Hardy's performance as Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small contained all the ingredients of a classic sitcom character. Something that seems to link all the top comedy actors is the energy they brought to their roles and Hardy was no exception. Siegfried's rages and his hypocritical and patronising lectures created hilarious scenes. Hardy was already an established versatile actor when he first played the role, but it was this role that best exhibited his comic timing. ” - topukactors
“ Marion and Geoff showcased Rob Brydon's genius for comedy. Making a monologue entertaining is hard and Brydon is certainly one of the best comic actors there has ever been, even if he is unfortunate to be around at a time when there are few good sitcom roles. ” - topukactors
Ricky Gervais
Writer, The Office
Ricky Dene Gervais was born in a suburb of Reading, Berkshire, to Eva Sophia (House) and Lawrence Raymond Gervais, who was a hod carrier and labourer. His father was born in Ontario, Canada, of French-Canadian descent, and his mother was English. He was educated at Ashmead Comprehensive School and went on to study at University College, London, where he gained a degree in Philosophy...
“ Like John Cleese, he may not be the most versatile actor in the world, but he created a memorable sitcom character in a memorable show. David Brent in The Office is a brilliant creation. In this role Gervais shows brilliant comic timing. Brent is selfish and egotistical, yet he is also rather pathetic and Gervais is brilliant not only because Brent is hilarious, but he is also vulnerable. Gervais and co-writer Stephen Merchant created a classic that ranks alongside the very best sitcoms. Unfortunately many of Gervais' later roles have exposed his shortcomings as an actor, but as Brent he was brilliant. ” - topukactors
“ James Bolam was a star of 1960s sitcom The Likely Lads. He went on to appear in the 1970s sequel Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads, which was better than the original. Bolam may not have created a character with the sheer energy and hilarity of a Basil or a Hyacinth, but he was a master of his craft. Although many of the shows he did after The Likely Lads were not sitcoms, it is not hard to imagine that Bolam would have given a consistently good performance in any comedy role he played. ” - topukactors
Brenda Blethyn
Actress, Atonement
After twenty years of hard work on stage and both television and film, there are not many other actresses who deserved the success, recognition and stardom which Brenda Blethyn has now achieved. Born in 1946 in Ramsgate, Kent, England, she started her career at British Rail in the 1960s. Saving money during her time there...
“ A brilliant actress. A brilliant comic actress. As Miriam in Outside Edge, Blethyn's genius is the way she shows the repression in the character and turns it into a sort of energy. It is an irritation that so rarely manifests itself in temper (occasionally she screams into the oven!) Blethyn's comic timing is excellent and her knowledge of comedy is underrated. ” - topukactors
Fulton Mackay
Actor, Local Hero
Fulton Mackay was born on August 12, 1922 in Paisley, Scotland. He was an actor and writer, known for Local Hero, Defense of the Realm and Doing Time. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of authoritarian prison warder Mr Mackay in the BBC sitcom Porridge (1973-1977). He was married to Sheila Manahan. He died on June 6, 1987 in London, England.
“ Fulton Mackay's performance as Mr. Mackay in Porridge is brilliant. The way Mackay walked into a cell was rehearsed and rehearsed so that it was honed to perfection. His conversations with Fletcher were hilarious. Sadly, Mackay did not create any other great sitcom roles, but Porridge has stood the test of time. ” - topukactors
Joan Sanderson
Actress, Please Sir!
Joan Sanderson was a well known British television and stage actress. During several seasons at Stratford Upon Avon, she played the roles of Goneril in King Lear, Constance in King John, and Queen Margaret in Richard III. In a single season at the Old Vic she appeared in The Mousetrap, and in 1981 ended...
“ One of the great comic actresses, Joan Sanderson often played battleaxes with a twinkle in her eye. Eleanor in After Henry was her best creation. She had such great presence and had a special kind of charm that came across on screen. ” - topukactors
“ An accomplished sitcom actress, Prunella Scales always gave a good performance. Whether it was Sybil Fawlty or Sarah France, Scales knew the craft of sitcom acting like the back of her hand. ” - topukactors
“ A brilliant comic actor that is very underrated. Roger Dervish in Outside Edge is a brilliant creation. He has also appeared in a number of other comic roles. Although it didn't run for very long, Ernie in Rock and Chips was another hilarious creation from Daws. Daws' characters are often pompous or slimy. ” - topukactors
Stephanie Cole
Born in Warwickshire, England, UK. At age of 15, she auditioned for and was accepted to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Stephanie began her career at age 17 playing a 90-year-old woman. She went on to play beloved characters on the shows Waiting for God and Doc Martin.
“ Stephanie Cole as Diana Trent may not have been quite as funny as Hyacinth or Sybil or Eleanor, but she still had her fair share of laughs. Cole was already an accomplished sitcom actress before starring as Diana in Waiting For God. Like Prunella Scales, always gives a good performance. ” - topukactors
Arthur Lowe
Actor, Dad's Army
Lowe, rotund and professionally indefatigable, rightly gained acclaim as an accomplished comedy character actor; fondly remembered as the irascible "Captain Mainwaring" in the Home Guard comedy series Dad's Army (1968-1977), and as Coronation Street's "Leonard Swindley". The only child of a Derbyshire railworker...
“ Not a very versatile actor, but what he did he did brilliantly. Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army was his best creation. Often playing pompous characters, Lowe had brilliant comic timing. He and John Le Mesurier had a great chemistry on screen. ” - topukactors
Martin Clunes
Martin Clunes was born the son of the noted Shakespearean actor Alec Clunes. He was educated at the Royal Russell School in Surrey and the Arts Educational School in Chiswick, London. He made his television debut playing an alien prince opposite Peter Davison in Snakedance: Part One (director Fiona Cumming...
“ It would be easy to class Martin Clunes as just another good television actor, but he has created characters that put him in a class above most actors of recent times. Doc Martin is so humourless he could be a bore, but not in Clunes' expert hands. ” - topukactors
Bernard Cribbins
An actor since the age of 14, Bernard Cribbins had become a major star on the London stage by his mid-20s, but it was another ten years before he became a national star by his success in film comedies and with a string of hit records. He appeared in several of the "Carry On" series, and also achieved a great degree of success doing voiceovers for cartoons and TV commercials.
“ He may not have appeared in a regular role in a great television sitcom, but Cribbins was a great comic actor. His performance as Mr. Hutchinson in an episode of Fawlty Towers is hilarious. ” - topukactors
Mackenzie Crook
Mackenzie Crook, one of British comedy's best-known faces, who collected Star Wars figurines as a child, is now immortalized in plastic as a six-inch-high pirate action figure. He was born Paul Mackenzie Crook on September 29, 1971, in Maidstone, Kent, England, UK. His father worked for British Airways...
“ Gareth Keenan in The Office is a brilliant creation by the versatile Mackenzie Crook. ” - topukactors
“ Perhaps a surprising choice in a list of comic actresses. However, her performance as Ann Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles showcased Wilton's incredible skill. It was a hard role to get right and Wilton got it spot on. She may not have had most of the funny lines, but she had quite a few and made the most of them. Most of her television roles have not been comic roles, yet many of them contain moments of comedy. ” - topukactors
“ Else Garnett in Till death us do part would seem on paper to be almost a secondary character, merely Alf Garnett's long-suffering wife. But what a performance Nichols gave! She could glare, sigh and say sly one-liners that were hilarious. The series declined after she left. ” - topukactors
“ Jim Royle is a brilliant comic creation. Ricky Tomlinson is hilarious! ” - topukactors
Ballard Berkeley
Actor, The BFG
Ballard Berkeley made his professional stage debut in 1928, and performed for many years in London's West End and in New York theatres. He is best remembered as Major Gowen in the British television series "Fawlty Towers" (1975).
“ The Major in Fawlty Towers is one of the funniest sitcom characters ever. Ballard Berkeley's performance is brilliant. Every line and every movement is timed to perfection. ” - topukactors
Timothy Spall
Timothy Leonard Spall was born in Battersea, London, to Sylvia R. (Leonard), a hairdresser, and Joseph L. Spall, a postal worker. He was raised in London. Spall auditioned and earned a spot with the National Youth Theatre and later showed great promise at RADA where he portrayed the title roles in "Macbeth"...
“ As well as being a great actor, Timothy Spall knows his comedy. Even in Shooting the past, which is a drama, he creates a hilarious character in Oswald Bates. ” - topukactors
“ The acting in Till death us do part was of the highest calibre. Tony Booth was brilliant. He nearly had as much passionate energy as Warren Mitchell (but not quite). ” - topukactors
Geoffrey Palmer
Born in London on June 4th, 1927, Geoffrey Palmer worked in an imports office and then as an accountant before his girlfriend persuaded him to join the local amateur dramatics society. Eventually he became assistant stage manager at Croydon's Grand Theatre, and then spent several years touring with rep...
“ Geoffrey Palmer appeared in many well known sitcoms and always gave a good performance. Perhaps Lionel in As Time Goes By was his best sitcom role. ” - topukactors
Paul Eddington
Paul Eddington always shunned personal publicity. He began acting in 1941 as part of ENSA (the British Forces USO). However the Quaker principles to which he always adhered led to him being asked to leave when they realised he was a pacifist and a conscientious objector. He started in the repertory stage in Sheffield and broke into television in the 1950s...
“ Paul Eddington starred in two well known sitcoms, The Good Life and Yes Minister. His parts were often overshadowed by Margo or Sir Humphrey, but Eddington's understated brilliance should not be overlooked. ” - topukactors
David Jason
Sir David Jason was born in Edmonton, London, in 1940. He has become one of Britain's most famous and respected actors. He is a versatile actor who is most famously known for his role in Only Fools and Horses.... as Del Boy. He made his debut as DelBoy back in 1981 and was still playing the same role up to the Christmas special in 2002...
“ An actor with an understanding of the mechanics of comedy (not surprising considering he worked a lot with Ronnie Barker). Although Del Trotter was his most famous comic role, Ted Simcock in A bit of a do was also a brilliant creation. Perhaps not the most talented actor, but he made the most of his talent. ” - topukactors
“ Margo was a brilliant creation. What Keith brought to the role was a vulnerability that was endearing. Although not the most versatile actress, she was still good enough to be cast as the lead in several sitcoms. To the Manor Born is overrated though. ” - topukactors
Peter Vaughan
Actor, Brazil
A true character actor in the best sense of the word, offbeat British thesp Peter Vaughan's hefty frame could appear intimidating or marshmallow benevolent; his beady, hollow eyes menacing or tender; his mere presence menacing or avuncular. Adept at playing both sides of the law, his characters usually possessed a strange...
“ Harry Grout in Porridge is another great creation from the versatile Peter Vaughan. Grout is menacing and humourless, yet can also be very funny. People remember Vaughan in this role, yet Grout appeared in very few episodes. ” - topukactors
“ Corporal Jones in Dad's Army was a classic sitcom character. Clive Dunn was great at playing much older than his actual age and was a master of physical humour. ” - topukactors
Leonard Rossiter
Leonard Rossiter was born on October 21st, 1926 in Liverpool. Unable to afford to go to university, he worked in an insurance office until he was 27, when he joined Preston repertory company and made his professional stage debut in "The Gay Dog". After Preston, he starred in productions at Wolverhampton...
“ He was very good as Rigsby in Rising Damp. However, I wouldn't say he was in the very top echelon of comic actors. ” - topukactors
Martin Freeman
Martin Freeman is an English actor, best known for portraying Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit film trilogy, Tim Canterbury in the original UK version of sitcom mockumentary The Office, Dr. John Watson in the British crime drama Sherlock and Lester Nygaard in the dark comedy-crime drama TV series Fargo...
“ Martin Freeman seems to play a version of Martin Freeman in everything, but he is brilliant at it. The audience always seems to identify with the character Freeman plays. Tim in The Office is the prime example of this. Freeman also showcases good comic timing in this role. ” - topukactors
Jennifer Saunders
Jennifer Saunders was born July 6th 1958 in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, UK. She attended Central School of Speech and Drama where she met her comedy partner Dawn French. Like many of the early 80s groundbreaking "alternative" comedians she began her career as comedienne/actress/writer with Dawn French at "The Comedy Store" in London...
“ Edina in Absolutely Fabulous is her best creation. She had great comic timing in this role. The show could have been funnier if it had included more of the mother-daughter relationship rather than Edina and Patsy. Least said about more recent episodes the better. ” - topukactors
“ Paul in Ever Decreasing Circles could have been a dislikeable character that wanted to get one over on Martin at every opportunity. Not in Egan's expert hands. His reactions to Richard Briers are hilarious. ” - topukactors
“ An actor that didn't know how to give a bad performance. Is best remembered for Fresh Fields and May to December. ” - topukactors
“ As Sharon in Birds of a Feather she sparred hilariously with Lesley Joseph. Joseph's character often seems to be seen as the funniest character in the show, but Quirke was funnier. ” - topukactors
“ Gwen Taylor's comedy roles were often not particularly comedic (Rita in A bit of a do was one of these) but Taylor was perfectly capable of creating a laugh when required. Was under-used and underrated. ” - topukactors
“ Although he never did anything anywhere near as good as Manuel in Fawlty Towers again, he was very good as waiter Manuel. He was particularly good at walking into a room with a plate, not really knowing where he was going, stopping and going in a different direction. Sachs conveyed the confusion of the character (particularly when not understanding English) brilliantly. Sachs was German born and spent his early childhood in Germany before moving to Britain. ” - topukactors
John Thaw
He was the working class boy from Manchester whose intensity and natural honesty made him British television's most bankable actor. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His first starring role on TV was as Sgt John Mann in Redcap. His first great success, though, was as Detective Inspector Regan in The Sweeney...
“ Although Inspector Morse was a more serious role, there were moments of dry humour. Henry Willows in Home To Roost showed that Thaw was a good comic actor as well as being a great actor. Unfortunately he never had a great comic role. Unrealised potential. ” - topukactors
Chris Barrie
Actor, Red Dwarf
Chris Barrie was born Christopher Jonathan Brown on March 28, 1960, in Hannover, Germany. He was brought up in Northern Ireland, and was a boarder at a Methodist College in Belfast. He was Head Boy in his final year, and played the lead in a "Dial M for Murder" production. He eventually started a business course at Brighton Polytechnic...
“ One of his best roles was Gordon Brittas "excellent". ” - topukactors
“ Nicholas Lyndhurst has learned the craft of comedy. He started as a young man in shows like Going Straight and Butterflies and went on to appear in Only Fools and Horses and then Goodnight Sweetheart. A very consistent performer. ” - topukactors
Rik Mayall
Rik Mayall, one of the first and foremost alternative comedians in the UK, was born in a village called Matching Tye, just outside Harlow in Essex. His parents, John and Gillian were both drama teachers. His acting debut was at the age of seven when he appeared in one of his father's stage plays. He met his comedy partner and best friend Adrian "Ade" Edmondson at Manchester University in 1975...
“ Not a very versatile actor, but he was very good at what he did. Best at slapstick comedy such as Bottom. ” - topukactors
“ Clive Swift's character Richard in Keeping up appearances is overshadowed by the hilarious Hyacinth, but he is brilliant in this role. Swift's understanding of comedy is underrated. ” - topukactors
“ Was good as the grumpy Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave. ” - topukactors
“ Played two good sitcom roles in Porridge and Last of the summer wine. Barraclough in Porridge was his best role. He had such a naive charm. ” - topukactors
“ A good comic actress. Her best role was in Butterflies. ” - topukactors
Annette Crosbie
Besides brilliantly playing "Margaret Meldrew" on the acclaimed BBC Series One Foot in the Grave, Annette is a tireless supporter of animal rights. Nothing enrages her more than cruelty to animals. She is a member of the Retired Greyhound Trust Charity and loves her three Greyhound dogs Tatti, Honey and Bonny...
“ Was excellent as Margaret Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave and showed good comic ability when she became exasperated with Victor. ” - topukactors